Why I love Paris
Updated: 4 days ago
“There are the great cities of the world. And then there’s Paris” – Gene Kelly
I’ve spent most of my time outside the US in Japan. I’ve visited it for over 40 years. I’ve made over 30 trips to Japan (I lost count of the exact total) and I’ve lived there for different periods stretching from one month to three years. I love Japan’s geography, its culture, its history, and most of its food and people. But love is a fickle thing.
For the last decade, my wife and I have spent 25% of our time in Europe, mostly in Paris. We did return to Japan to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, but otherwise, our time overseas was spent in Europe.
About ten years ago I was invited to book festivals in Sicily and Piacenza in Northern Italy. I had to pass on the Sicilian trip because of a family wedding, but I happily accepted the invitation to the Mississippi dal Po Festival. My wife and I had never been to Europe, so we decided that, since some of our expenses were being paid, we should make a European Grand Tour and visit several countries over three months.
We first visited the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. We had good times in all these countries. Then we arrived in Paris.
We were scheduled to stay a week in Paris, and we had a room at a small boutique hotel right in the middle of the First Arrondissement. We left our bags at the hotel and went for a walk around the neighborhood. And what a neighborhood!
We were across the street from Perrault’s Columns at the Louvre. Directly in front of the hotel door was Eglise Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, a cathedral over 1500 years old. The bell in this cathedral signaled the start of the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s day massacre. Next to that was the office of the First Arrondissement mayor. A small park in front of the offices was marked on the map as the center of the camp of Julius Caesar when he conquered Paris (then Lutetia) in 52 BC. The actual hotel building once housed the Café Momus, a center for political ferment in the mid-1800s, and where the entire second act of the Opera La Boheme, by Puccini, is set.
We walked around this historic neighborhood, going down to the Seine to see the bistros, book stalls, tourist traps, and river traffic. We immediately came across Pont Neuf. Pont Neuf means “New Bridge” in French, and this iconic bridge has kept this name since 1607. It’s now the oldest bridge in Paris, but the Parisians don’t seem to find the irony in keeping the name “New Bridge,” even though many other Paris bridges have been built since 1607.
The Pont Neuf has a series of semi-circular alcoves with benches. My wife and I sat down in one and watched the world go by. A woman passing heard us speaking in English and stopped to introduce herself. Frankly, Paris is full of con artists and pickpockets, so this encounter put us a little on edge. The woman, however, just wanted to tell us about the many free museums in Paris (and perhaps practice her English?).
We were scheduled to visit several other countries after France. My wife, who is a great planner, had put together an itinerary that would rival any professional tour company. After being in Paris for an hour, I said to her, “I want to cancel the rest of our trip and spend as much time in Paris as possible.”
To my great surprise, she said, “I do, too!”
This change of plans would require a great deal of replanning, canceling train and hotel reservations, and making sure we’d have a place in Paris to stay. It was a lot of work for her. But my wife had fallen in love with Paris as much as I had.
It’s hard to explain love and why it can strike you in an instant. However, our love for Paris is, I hope, not a blind infatuation.
As I mentioned, Paris has more tricksters and thieves on the streets than any other city I’ve been in. You also have to watch where you step because the sidewalk can be torn up or littered with dog poop. French men, for some reason, think they have the right to stand in the corner of two buildings and “baptize” the walls (some building corners even bristle with iron barriers to discourage this practice). French bureaucracy is a nightmare that even defeats the French. The French language constantly confounds me (I have a theory that some part of the French government is devoted to making sure the way words sound doesn’t match how they’re spelled). The most common sport in Paris is going on strike or blocking up the roads in a demonstration. France is beset with many serious religious, economic, political, and social challenges.
Yet, despite my recognition of all these flaws, when my wife and I go to Paris we feel comfortable, and we feel very happy.
When people hear we spend 25% of our time in Paris, they always ask me if it’s because we have business or relatives there. I always feel guilty that the answer is just that we want to be there. There’s no special reason we have to be there, except we’re in love.
I recognize how lucky we are. Someone once told me that my life was their dream. But I also recognize that soon our health or our money will prevent us from continuing. Until then, we’ll spend part of our year visiting the many French friends we’ve made. Going to plays, exhibits, and concerts. Sampling boulangeries all over the city looking for the perfect croissant, And trying to see all the free museums that woman on Pont Neuf told us about a decade ago.